Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Church is the prophet we need (Sunday homily)

In today’s Gospel the Apostles face a choice: 
Play it safe; or a put everything on the line. 

First the Lord asks an easy question: 
“What are folks saying about me?” 
And they all have something to say.

Then, Jesus puts them on the spot: “And who do you say that I am?” 
Now Simon steps out alone: 
“You are the Anointed One: the Son of the Living God.” 

Even early in life—when we’re kids in school— 
we face the choice of melting into the crowd, 
or standing up and standing out, for what is right. 

It’s not fair that others hang back, 
Letting you step up alone—but that’s life. 
That gnawing in your stomach? That’s normal. 
That voice that tells you to speak up? 
That’s your conscience. 

And however hard stepping up is to do, 
Do you know what feels worse?
The shameful regret that comes from knowing 
what you should have done or said, 
but didn’t find the nerve to do. 

Simon commits himself. 
That’s when Jesus says: “You are Peter—you are Rock— 
And upon this Rock I will build my Church.” 
Jesus makes a promise here: 
The Rock will stand, the Church will stand; and she has. 
Peter was not super-human. We know his story.
He had a business, a family; he had a lot to lose.

Now let me give you two bits of history.

This Gospel scene happened in Caesarea Philippi.
You can visit the runs; and if you do,  
you will see two things that surely Peter saw:
First, a huge hill of rock. 
And at the base of that hill were pagan temples.
The city was a monument to the emperor of Rome.

This is where our Lord said, “upon this Rock”: 
meaning Peter and his profession of faith.

Now, move forward 30-35 years, 
and a persecution is underway in Rome.
Peter was arrested and crucified in Nero’s circus.
After his death, his disciples moved quickly 
to gather his body so the soldiers didn’t throw it in the Tiber.

They took his body to a nearby cemetery, 
marking the grave with a red stone.
At some point, someone wrote, in Greek, Petros eni
which means, “Peter is within.”

Around the year 320, the Emperor Constantine built a church there.
The current basilica replaced it around the year 1600.

Now, fast-forward to the 1950s; 
it had been centuries since anyone had seen Peter's tomb;
as a result, many claimed it wasn't really there, it was just a legend.
Some workers were digging underneath the basilica, 
when they struck something.
Someone ran upstairs and told the Holy Father.
Down came Pope Pius XII, and there was the red stone;
there was the Greek words, Petros ini!

If you go there today, you can visit the tomb; 
you can see the bones of Peter with your own eyes. 

Walk a few steps to a chapel, look up through a grate, 
and see, written in huge letters that are four feet high, 
in Latin and Greek, the words we heard today:

“Upon this Rock I will build my Church”!
The Church is literally built on Peter.

Now we believe Christ protects the Church, 
in a supernatural way, from teaching error. 
This is what we call “infallibility.”

The first reading helps us understand why. 
God’s People were in trouble; 
God empowers a new leader, 
to be a “peg in a sure spot”; a father to Jerusalem. 

To say the Church and the pope are “infallible” 
has to be understood correctly. 
It doesn’t mean he’s a know-it-all, even about our Faith.

If you asked Pope Francis a question about God, 
about the angels, about heaven and hell—
it’s quite possible he would say back, “I don’t know.”
Yet he’s still infallible.

But what it means is that on those special occasions 
when the pope needs to give teaching about God, 
about right and wrong, then God will act to prevent the pope
from including error in that teaching. 

Now, if you want, you will find popes 
whose lives were far from admirable. 
And you don’t have to look long for a story 
that claims the Church messed up on this or that matter. 

First, I’d say, don’t believe all you hear. 
The facts are often otherwise. 
But ultimately, the most anyone can “prove”  
is what we already knew: 
that Christ built his Church not from angels, 
but from sinful people. 

It’s not surprising that too often, too many in the Church—
including ordinary folks like us— 
were willing to melt into the crowd, rather than speak up and be alone. 

The really amazing thing is how often 
the Church has done what Peter did: 
speak up, even when all alone. 

You may have heard the claim 
that the Church approved of slavery. That’s false. 
What’s true is that the Church was often alone 
in condemning it; and was ignored.

You’ve heard the charge that the Church 
didn’t do much to oppose Nazism. Again, that is a lie. 

No less than the New York Times called Pope Pius XII 
“a lonely voice” in the darkness. 
The Church took great risks in hiding Jews 
and others from the Holocaust, 
and saved more than anyone else besides the Allied armies. 

That has often been our role; to be the lonely voice, 
the prophet who speaks up to defending human dignity— 
and when we do, we are attacked as opposing “progress.” 

Pope Paul VI was very alone when he said contraception 
Was a grave moral evil that would be destructive in many ways.
When immorality and abortion spread—as Pope Paul foresaw— 
The Church has stood almost entirely alone on this one: 
and now, she is being proven 100% right.

So the Church continues to be that lonely prophet:
Whether against research that destroys tiny, unborn children;
Against the death penalty; against war and torture;
Or now on the great experiment of redefining marriage and family.

It’s hard to stand up against the crowd. 
How alone Peter might have felt, standing in the center of pagan Rome, 
with everyone jeering, “what a fool!”

Yet where is Nero? Where is mighty Rome?
Gone; plundered; turned to dust.

And if we find it hard to accept the teachings of the Church, remember: 
everyone likes a prophet when he tells us we’re right;
And we can’t stand a prophet who tells us we’re wrong.
But isn’t that exactly what we need a prophet for?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

No, Jesus wasn't prejudiced against the Canaanite woman

Last Sunday in most Catholic churches worldwide, the Gospel reading describes an encounter between Jesus, his Apostles and a Gentile woman. As with the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes, this passage seems to be irresistible bait for dubious and nearly heretical interpretations; not to mention, dumb interpretations.

For example, Maryknoll Missioners claimed Jesus learned to overcome his "prejudice." Father James Martin (who seems particularly hungry for attention, even if he has to toss Catholic teaching over the side to get it), makes the same claim; and when challenged, accuses his critics of heresy. FYI, I didn't find any of this; ChurchPop did (post here).

So, I'm not as smart and famous as any of these folks, but I'm going to show you just how wrong all this is. And I might point out that what follows relies heavily on Father Tim Schehr, who taught Scripture for many years at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's seminary, Mount Saint Mary's Seminary of the West.

First, let's acknowledge the difficulty by simply quoting the text in question. I bolded the parts that seem to support the claim Jesus was rude, if not prejudiced, toward the woman:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to herJesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." 

He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 

He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." 

She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." 

Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."  And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

It seems pretty damning, doesn't it?

But let's look more closely.

Here's the first part of the text again, with different parts highlighted:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and SidonAnd behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." 

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to herJesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."

First, note the detail about the region of Tyre and Sidon. Why is that important? Where had Jesus and the Apostles been before?

If you roll back to chapter 14, you will see that Jesus and the Apostles had been in Galilee. This is where we read of the first occasion on which Jesus feeds a large crowd. Then he meets the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee; they are in the boat, with the wind against them, while Jesus walks across. (We heard this the prior week: this is when Peter steps out of the boat and very briefly walks on the water, before faltering.)

Then, he is in Gennesaret (14:34-36), where it says "People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed." Then, some of the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem come to him, and complain that his disciples do not ritually purify their hands before eating. He gives his answer in verses 3-9, and then says to the assembled crowd:

“Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”

After this, Peter asks for still more clarification, to which an exasperated Jesus replies:

Are even you still without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.

So, it is after this that Jesus decides they will make a field trip to the region of Tyre and Sidon. If you look at a map of the area, you will see it's a bit of a hike; they didn't accidentally end up there. Moreover, it is outside traditionally Jewish areas. In other words, Jesus deliberately took the Apostles to a Gentile area.

Pop quiz: if you visit Idaho, would you be surprised to meet Idahoians? I would hope not. So surely Jesus expected to meet a Gentile in the region of Tyre and Sidon, n'est pas?

Second detail: notice Jesus does not reply to the woman; he waits and allows the Apostles to reply. And how do they answer? "Send her away"!

Father Tom Grilliot, now gone to his reward, used to point out that this was often the Apostles' response. Remember they tried to send away the parents bringing children to be blessed? And this is what happened just before, with the 5,000 hungry people. They said "dismiss the crowds," but Jesus refused.

So here's the key to the whole thing. This isn't about Jesus having a prejudice; it's about the prejudice of the Apostles. It isn't about the woman teaching Jesus a lesson; it's about Jesus -- with the woman's help -- teaching the Apostles a lesson.

This episode is simply part of a larger effort on the Lord's part to expand the Apostles' vision. Understood in that light, the lesson about the ritual hand-washing, and what defiles a person, fits in perfectly, doesn't it? Indeed, that's what you see throughout the Gospels; the Apostles are struggling, and Jesus is continually schooling them.

But let's go on to review more of the passage, and notice further details:

He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." 
He said in reply,
"It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs." 
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters." 
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith! 
Let it be done for you as you wish." 
And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

The key question her is, to whom are Jesus' first two comments directed? The first comment comes in response to the Apostles' "send her away" comment; he's responding to them. Admittedly, the second comment is unclear; it comes right after she does Jesus homage; but is it really directed at her?

Note well that the third comment is explicitly directed to her: "Then Jesus said to her in reply..." Matthew -- who was there to witness this -- seems to be emphasizing that this remark is the one comment particularly directed at the woman, in distinction from the others. And if they weren't directed at her, then to whom? Why, the Apostles -- whose attitudes are most likely reflected in them.

Father Schehr, when he explained this passage, invited us to imagine where everyone was standing, and facing, and the body language. He suggested that if it were acted out, the text would make the most sense if Jesus were looking at, and addressing his first two comments to, the Apostles.

Now, I can imagine someone accusing me of "forcing the text," in order to get the Lord "off the hook." But I will insist that anyone who claims, as the Maryknoll Missioners and Father Martin do, that this represents a case of "prejudice" on Jesus' part, to answer some questions:

- Why did Jesus deliberately enter into a Gentile region, if he wanted to avoid Gentiles?

- If Jesus didn't like Gentiles, why does the Gospel of Matthew, from Chapter 4, show him willingly healing Gentiles? In 4:25, we learn that people from "the Decapolis" region were among those he healed. While there were most likely Jews in this region, it was also heavily colonized by Gentiles. Then in Matthew 8, after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' first healing is of a leper; then he heals the servant of a Centurion. It's almost certain the Centurion was a Gentile, for this is when Jesus exclaims, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith."

And just note, here, that there are two times in Matthew in which Jesus singles out individuals on whom to lavish praise for their great faith. One is this Centurion; the other in the Canaanite woman. Both Gentiles.

- Or, do you think Jesus didn't like women? Well, his next healing was of Peter's mother-in-law. And, of course, Jesus notably had several women who assisted him, and with which he willingly associated.

- Or, do you think Jesus didn't want to become ritually "unclean"? Again, hard to square with the passage in chapter 15 we already looked at; in addition, we might note he willingly healed two demonaics who had been dwelling "among tombs," in the region of the Gadarenes -- this is where the demons enter the herd of pigs, and drive them off the cliff. Beaucoup ritual uncleanness there!

This theory that Jesus had a prejudice simply doesn't track with the rest of the Gospel of Matthew. Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew has as a consistent theme throughout, that the Gentiles were to be incorporated into a renewed Israel; this is clear from the very first lines of the Gospel, which begin with a genealogy of Christ, which includes Gentiles and some other dodgy figures, right through the story of the Magi, and all I've just highlighted, all the way to the conclusion in which Jesus sends the Apostles to "make disciples of all Jews..."

Wait, is that right? No, sorry, I mis-remembered it! In fact, it says:

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In my judgment, this "interpretation" isn't a case of exegesis -- drawing from the text -- but rather, isogesis, which is reading into the text. It is all about an agenda. Can you think of a reason? Why might someone want to suggest that Jesus, of all people, was bound up in narrowness and prejudice? What agenda might that serve? I can think of several, and I bet you can, too.*

* FYI; after initially posting this, I added this paragraph.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

This church is a living sign of God -- and so are you (Sunday homily)

Today we recall the dedication of this church. 
This church was dedicated in 1891; it is the third church on this site. 
The first church was dedicated in 1852; 
so between three buildings, that’s 165 years.

Why is it so important to remember this – so much so, 
that this is a solemnity for our parish, 
and the readings and prayers are different 
from what they are in all other Catholic churches this Sunday?

Well, we might ask, why is it important to have sacraments? 
Even a lot of Catholics, don’t know the answer to that question. 
They are baptized, they made their first communion, 
and maybe they go to confession now and then, 
but they don’t really know what makes the sacraments important…

And to take a step back, why might as well ask, 
why does it matter, that God became human? 
What we call the Incarnation?

That’s what this is about, you see: 
God coming to be with us, as one of us.

A Catholic writer Mark Shea told this story
He was working with a woman who was prompted by the song, 
“If God Was One of Us” to ask, 
“Wouldn’t that be cool? Suppose God became a human being. 
Wouldn’t that be a great idea for a story?”

Mr. Shea laughed, and had the pleasure of being the first one 
to explain to her that, yes indeed, God did become, and remains, 
one of us. God became human. 

This is why the sacraments matter: 
because instead of vague ideas about God, 
or about what God wishing us well, 
God acts in time, in our lives, to save us.

And so, there’s why this church matters. 
Because St. Remy Church means 
that these miracles of God’s love and mercy and transformation 
aren’t things that happen somewhere – they happen here.

While I’m on the subject: the people of this parish 
have always demonstrated a great love for, and dedication to, 
this church and this parish. 

Last year, I reported to you that we were facing a serious deficit. 
Our very dedicated staff accepted no increase in pay 
and they helped hold down spending in many ways.
Meanwhile, so many of the people of this parish were very generous. 

In a few weeks, the finance committee and I 
will present a financial report on the past year, 
and a budget for the coming year. We are finalizing that right now. 
But I can tell you, we almost entirely closed that gap. 
I am confident that as we go forward with the same spirit, 
we’ll get into the black in another year. 

Meanwhile, this is a good time to recall 
the “One Faith, One Hope” fund drive 
the Archbishop launched two years ago. 

As you may recall, a portion of what you have given to that fund 
is coming back to the parish. 
Since then, about $70,000 has come back here, 
and we have been using it, as promised, 
on various repairs and improvements. Let me highlight a few:

- We repaired and resurfaced sections of our parking lots; 
- Pavement in the cemetery and around the rectory garage was replaced;
- The interior of St. Remy Hall was repainted;
- We’ve made improvements in the landscaping;
- Repairs were made to the exterior of St. Remy Hall;
- The rooms in the church basement were improved;
- The church organ was given much needed maintenance;
- We added safety features to the Parish Center, 
including emergency lighting;
- And just last week, we modernized our office phones 
after a lightning strike.

There were many other smaller projects, but they all add up. 
And there are many more coming, as the funds are rebated,
including a safety rail on the balcony, 
improvements to the interior of the Parish Center, 
and improvements to the equipment in the hall.

Now, all this is great to celebrate, 
but it also gives us something to ponder. 
This puts a great responsibility on us; on each of us. 
After all, this house of God, this place of grace, 
is only as impressive as the people who call it home. 
The mercy and the miracles don’t just happen in a building; 
they happen, above all, in people. That would be us.

When I talk about miracles, what do I mean? 
Well, let me mention several:

- At every Mass Jesus makes his death and resurrection present, 
and he gives us his very Body and Blood for food!
- In every confession, the unbearable weight of sin and alienation from God 
is destroyed and vanishes forever!
- In every baptism, a child is born again as a child of God and 
a temple of the Holy Spirit, destined for heaven.
- In the sacrament of marriage, even in our cynical times, 
people continue to come to place their faith in each other 
as they invite Christ to make them a living image of God.
- In the anointing of the sick, 
both physical and spiritual healing happens. 

As wonderful as all this is, remember family, that it isn’t all just for us. 

The wonders we experience are about making us wonders; 
the signs God gives us are to make us signs to the larger community. 
The grace we receive, you and I are sent to share. 

In two weeks, a lot of the local community 
will stream to our parish grounds for our annual Homecoming. 
I’d like to suggest something. Starting today, will you – 
will each one of us – begin praying 
that our Homecoming Picnic will be a time of God’s grace?

If you invite someone, or meet someone, 
who has never been inside our church, 
why not give that person a tour for a few minutes?

If you are working a booth – and thank you for that! – 
ask God to help you be a blessing to all you meet. 
If you are a chairperson, pray for your volunteers, 
and let them know you’re praying for them.

If you talk to folks who are feeling discouraged or having trouble, 
offer to pray for them, and even with them. 

God has given us tremendous blessings in our parish. 
What will you do to be a blessing to our community? 
To be a living sign of the living God, who dwells in this house?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another thought about Charlottesville...

It occurs to me this episode illustrates something Scott Adams -- creator of the cartoon strip "Dilbert" -- has observed about life. Namely, that when we look at the world, we all see different "movies."

So, for example, if you look at the events of last weekend, and you see a bunch of KKK and Nazi wannabes showing up with clubs and guns, and they are met by peaceable citizens, and then you hear that people were injured and one was killed -- then of course what you see is murderous racism and that's the whole story.

On the other hand, if you see a bunch of Antifa goons -- who have bloodied faces across the country -- storming a bunch of white supremacists and other uglies, holding a nonetheless legal march -- then you see a different movie. And so it goes.

I haven't seen Mr. Adams mention this, but there remains another category: those who actually see one particular movie; but then, after noticing how others describe what they saw, change their stories. We call those folks "politicians."

Charlottesville and the future of our country

Here and there folks are insisting that Catholic clergy have a duty to speak out about the events over the weekend, particularly in Charlottesville. OK, I will be happy to share my thoughts -- although I first will point out that leaders of the conference of U.S. bishops have had their say, so check it out (and this too). Also, here is Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

So, here's the thing. How you view something like this has a lot to do with how narrowly or widely you focus your lens. Some people are zeroing in on the events in Charlottesville. So let's start there.

First, I obviously wasn't there, and I am not prepared to accept the news reports as the last word. But here's what seems to have happened:

1. A local individual wanted to organize a protest to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park; perhaps other statue removals were in the mix, I don't know. Whether this individual was a racist isn't obvious to me. No, I don't accept the notion that objecting to the removal of the statue makes someone a racist.

2. He wanted to get other people at the protest. Whether he explicitly invited racists and white supremacists, again, I don't know. But we do know that they showed up.

3. There was a legal dispute over the location of the protest; the courts sided with his right to have it where he wanted.

4. People who wanted to counter-protest also organized and showed up. From what I gather, the local authorities had time and information that would lead them to anticipate this.

5. Apparently, there was a third group that showed up, and they were legally armed citizens. Were they part of either of the groups? Not clear at all.

6. The police were there in some numbers, and appear to have been somewhat reserved about their response, such that they have been widely criticized, both from conservative and liberal viewpoints, about not handling this better. My reading so far inclines me toward that view.

7. All this climaxed with an individual who drove his car into a crowd of people, with one death and several people injured. That individual has been charged with second degree murder, and the federal authorities are contemplating charges.

So what do you want me to say? That white supremacy and racism are terrible? Indeed they are. Also terrible is anyone who thinks that violence and aggression are acceptable ways to make your point. But see, now I'm starting to widen the lens a little. Because, after all, if this were a peaceful demonstration in favor of white supremacy, that alone would deserve condemnation; yet that's not what we saw in Charlottesville. What we also saw was something we've seen before, especially in recent years: a ready recourse to violence attached to political sentiments.

Now we widen the lens a little more, to something that happened on Sunday in Seattle. Thankfully, no deaths, but people were hurt as a group that absurdly claims to be "anti-fascist" deliberately used violence to shut down a pro-Trump event. I say deliberately, because the Antifa group has admitted this is deliberate; and we've seen it happen several times already.

If every white supremacist and wannabe Nazi loser who lurks in dark places somewhere in this country had a Road to Damascus (please God!) moment, there would still be a huge problem with violence and extremism, right? Is there any doubt these folks are feeding on each other? Almost lost in all this is the question of Confederate memorials. I don't think they are terrible in principle; some might be, but as a general principle, I don't object to them being left alone. History is complicated, and if we start tearing down statues of people who don't measure up to our standards today, this will go way beyond the heroes of the Confederacy. Our American Revolution was fought for both good and bad motives too, including preservation of slavery and for a free hand to deal with Native Americans on the frontier. But now we have both the national socialists (i.e., Nazis) on one side, and the international socialists (Antifa) on the other side, happily agreeing that a statue of Lee is all about white supremacy (which Abraham Lincoln believed in, by the way); because, as I said, they are feeding on each other.

In short, there's a larger problem here. A big part of it is so-called "identity politics," which started on the left, but is now leeching over onto the right. Over the years, I've seen similar things happen: namely, where people I know who are conservative lament a dirty or low tactic taken by the opposition, and who then decide, ok, fine, we'll do it too! For quite some time, we've seen folks on the left promote the idea that your political views are essentially defined by your skin color, your race, your nationality, your sex or sexual attraction. So why should anyone be surprised that someone would say, OK, let's apply that to whiteness, maleness, nativeness, etc.? Rod Dreher makes this point better than I, here.

All this leads to a really depressing conclusion. We will see more Charlottesvilles; the wave is far from crested. And it isn't mainly about racism, that's just added evil. It's about our country turning into two countries, which is about something more prosaic:

We may no longer be -- now, or soon -- a country with enough shared values in common.

Do you disagree? Then tell me what common values still unites our nation? Is it the flag? Antifa burns it, and we have well paid athletes treating it with disrespect.

Is it respect for law? Not when violence in the streets is justified. Is it due process? Not when people insist that regardless of what juries decide, the defendant is guilty and should be punished. I had exactly that conversation on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I've seen it before.

Is it the Bill of Rights? We have a growing number of folks who are constitutionally illiterate -- made so by incompetent education all the way through college -- who don't know what the First Amendment protects, nor do they care. Some want an exception for "hate speech"; some believe your right to promote ideas does not include spending money for it. Some think religious freedom is no longer about how you live, but only what goes on inside a place of worship, or inside your head. And we could go through all the Bill of Rights thusly. And -- when I say "some" -- I mean a politically significant segment of our society. All these assaults on the Bill of Rights have the enthusiastic support among "progressives," and more I might mention; meanwhile, if we get to the later amendments, we find amendments that some on the right don't like very much, such freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the protection of due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Heck, we no longer even agree on reality! This is why I think the present moment is so different. With the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell -- reinventing marriage -- we are waking up to a fractured view of reality. What is a man? A woman? If you dare to insist these are questions of fact, not will, then congratulations, you are a bigot! Can a society be a society if it can't even agree on what is good and evil? On what is real?

I really hope I'm wrong. But I fear far worse is coming.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What steals our joy; and what restores it (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
what is happening for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter. 
That word is discouragement.

And there is a word for what cures it. And that is joy. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain 
because he is discouraged. He tried to spark revival of faith, 
and the queen seeks to kill him. He feels very alone and overwhelmed.

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews 
who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ.

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, 
and he begins to sink.

Meanwhile, let me recall something we’ve been talking about as a parish. 
You have heard me issue the challenge 
that we, as individuals and as a parish, 
be much more intentional about how we live our faith 
and share our faith. 

I’ve met with many parish groups, and I want to meet with more, 
to ask a simple question: 
how does this group help its members, and others, 
come to know Jesus better? 

One of the things that always seems to come up: 
why don’t we have more success sharing our Faith with family members, 
with neighbors and friends? 
Similar to the concern Saint Paul has in the second reading.

Most of the answer to that question is known only to God. 
Only the Holy Spirit can move hearts, 
and God chooses the how and the when. 

That said, if you and I want to be powerful messengers, 
we require what Elijah needed to renew, 
and what what Peter lost sight of. And that is joy.

I was inspired by reading the words of Charles Chaput, 
Archbishop of Philadelphia, who said recently
while Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, 
“we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy 
that’s our birthright 
by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

So, what is joy? Well, it isn’t simply happiness, 
because we can know joy even in times of great suffering. 
Let me give you an example. Forgive me if I’ve told this story before.

I knew an older couple in Piqua, married over 60 years. 
The wife became ill, and got worse and worse; 
and I was called to visit her in the hospital. 
When I entered that small hospital room, it was packed – 
maybe 20 people or more. 

Everyone was praying, centered on their mother and grandmother, 
in bed, with her husband sitting by her, holding her hand. 
She was leading the prayers. 

Then came a moment when she couldn’t speak, 
but her husband kept praying. 
Then, he finally stopped. We all knew she was gone.
And he broke the silence with these words: 
“I’m heart-broken, but I’m joyful.”

What was that joy? It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it; yet we know.
He and his wife and their children and grandchildren had shared life and love; 
not just on a natural, but a supernatural level.

Death was all too real and cruel, 
but something else is infinitely more real, 
and that is Jesus Christ, and that is hope, and that is joy!
He knew he would see her again, and they would share that joy 
from the very source – in the life of God in heaven.

So we might ask, what steals our joy? Many things, 
including discouragement, resentment, 
and worry about the cares of the world.

If you and I want to, we can find 100 things every day to discourage us. 
Some of us pay too much attention to the news and the blogs. 
That would be me; but I’m not the only one. 
And we all know folks who let it get them down.

It’s just like what happened to Peter: we see the waves crashing 
and the wind howling, and we start to sink.
But it wasn’t the storm that sunk Peter; 
it was looking away from Jesus.

So if these things get you anxious and angry, there is a simple solution: Turn it off!

Our inflated ego that tells us, we need to know; 
it’s what some call “FOMO”: fear of missing out. 
But all that staring and poking at our phones and our computers 
steals our joy and fills us with anxiety. Turn them off! 

Put down that phone and pick up a Rosary.
Stop looking at the screen, and look instead at another human face. 
Human relationships are messy, 
but they are also where real love happens; 
and they are the only possession we can enjoy for eternity. 

This points to another way we lose our joy: 
when we focus on what we lack, and probably will never have, 
rather than on all that has been given to us.

If you feel envy or resentment, here’s an exercise. 
It will work; it will lift your spirit. 
Sit down with a full size piece of paper and a pencil, 
and start writing down everything – every single thing – 
for which you are grateful. Don’t stop till you fill both sides. 

I predict you may struggle at first, but then the dam will break, 
and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of blessings.

If you and I are people of fear or worry, who will want to share that? 
If we are focused on anger, on what’s wrong with the world – 
and plenty is! – then why should people be drawn to that? 

But if your gaze and mine is fixed on Jesus, 
what will shine in our face is the light of heaven, pure joy, 
and people will see that, and will want to know where it comes from.
They will want what we have.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Marriage & sex advice -- from a priest?

Couple celebrates 50th anniversary in same wedding clothes they wore in 1966

Actually not! Rather, from a divorce lawyer and a married woman. I just pass it along.

First the sex advice. I won't link it, because it includes an image that is not pornographic, but is...unseemly. But the author is Meg Conley, and her item appeared November 6, 2014, at the Huffington Post. She titled her article, "5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night," and here are the gist of her five reasons:

1. Being a mother, one of the ultimate expressions of womanhood, can often leave a girl feeling stripped of her femininity. There is something about being covered in spit up and attending to the every need of another human being that makes one feel distinctly gender neutral.... There is something restorative about kissing the boy you love.

2. If you want your husband to act like a man, you need to treat him like a man. Hold the eye rolls.  Women need any number of criteria met to feel loved. Men are far simpler. They need to be fed, they need to be appreciated, and they need to have sex. That is it.

3. You need to have a moment in each day that is just about the two of you. Remember that boy? The one that made your heart thump and hands sweat? The one that called when you hoped he would, that made you run hot and high up to the stars until you thought you would never come down? He is still there. Under the years and bills and worries, that smiling boy is still in love with and needs his smiling girl.

4. Sex relieves stress. I don’t know that this one needs much explanation.

5. It is so much blasted fun.

And here's (some of) the divorce attorney's advice (I left out the last point which I cannot endorse). Joanna Molloy wrote: "10 tips from a world-famous divorce lawyer to save your marriage," but the world-famous lawyer, whose advice is recounted, is Raoul Lionel Felder. This appeared August 9, 2017, in the New York Post; and again, questionable images, so no link:

1. Open your ears.

Take a break from talking about yourself. Ask your spouse how they feel, what happened to them at work that day, what their opinion is on politics, or cars, or food — anything that shows you care about what they have to say. I had one husband who filed for divorce, and on the stand he told the judge, “I love my wife; I just wish she would listen to me.”

The judge then called the wife to the stand and asked her if she still loved her husband. The wife said yes. So judge asked, “Well, would you be willing to start hearing him out? Start really listening?”

“Yes,” said the wife.

My client dropped the divorce action.

2. Quit streaming adult sites.

 -- I've read in many places that porn figures in a lot of divorces; this is surely confirmation.

3. Match your money attitudes.

-- This is a subject I discuss with every couple I help prepare for marriage.

4. Don't cheat.

5. Allow for changing bodies.
Wedding vows should really include “for fatter, for thinner.” This is a delicate area, but I’ve seen real conflict occur when spouses drift into different fitness levels.

6. Go easy on the plastic surgery.

-- Agreed, but is this really a thing for most people? Or just upper-income folks?

7. Don’t travel under tension.

-- Yes, but...doesn't this miss the point? The issue isn't the being together; it's the tension. By all means, be together!

8. Don’t shop together.

9. Act your age. 

People are living longer, and those little blue pills can make men behave in hurtful ways. 

-- This I did not know.

And the tenth? "Get a pre-nup" -- i.e., a prenuptial agreement. That maybe good advice for divorce, but it's terrible advice for marriage, because it means you are planning to fail. And, just so you know, it most likely renders the marriage invalid.

So what do you think of this advice? With the exceptions noted, I think it's pretty sound.

Here's the way I put it: husbands and wives should never stop courting each other. Treat each other as king and queen.

Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My letter to the Knights of Columbus about Crux

Last week I wrote about an absurd article in Crux that enthusiastically embraced the falsehood that men can turn themselves into women.

This week, Crux is at it again, with an insulting and condescending item that derides converts to the Catholic Faith as "neurotic" because they find fault with some of Pope Francis' approaches. Here's what Father John Zuhlsdorf had to say; here's what Father Tim Finigan, who blogs at The Hermeneutic of Continuity, had to say.

And here's the letter I sent to Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus:

The purpose of this letter is to convey to you my growing concern for the content that I have been reading in Crux, the online publication that the Knights of Columbus decided several months ago to take on as a project. Further, I want to urge you to take a good, hard look at how Crux is being run, and see if you think this is the right use of our funds.

Attached are two examples from recent weeks. First you will find a July 25 article entitled, “Nun ministering to transgender women gets thumbs-up from Pope.” Second, “Pope Francis and the convert problem,” which appeared two days ago. Let me briefly outline my concerns with each. 

Regarding the “Nuns” article: I have a blog, and I wrote something about it, a copy of which is also attached. Briefly, the article fails in a most fundamental way: it treats as true what we know, not even as a matter of faith, but as a matter of fact, to be false. The individuals the nun commendably assisted are not women at all, but men. At no point did the article even bother to explain this; in fact, the article again and again endorsed the proposition that these individuals have indeed become “women.”

Regarding Mr. Ivereigh’s item on the so-called “convert problem.” What “problem”? The problem is in Mr. Ivereigh’s mind. 

To be clear, I am not faulting the author for agreeing with the Holy Father, and disagreeing with those who criticize him. But those points could have been made far better, without the insulting and condescending approach Mr. Ivereigh takes toward people he dismisses as “neurotic.”

I write you, not only as a fellow Catholic and as a parish priest, but also as a fellow 4th degree knight. I’m very proud to be a Knight – my father was a lifelong Knight and he was present for my 3rd degree. I’ve tried always to give the Knights of Columbus every support and I am grateful for the kindness and support of many, many Knights over the years, both as a seminarian and as a priest.

When the Knights of Columbus took on Crux as a project, I was hopeful for what it would accomplish. But lately, I am wondering if this is a good use of what must be a considerable sum of money. To be plain, I think changes are in order, and I hope you will take a good, hard look.

Thank you for your kind attention...

Let me add something I decided not to include in the letter. Not only does Crux surely cost the Knights a lot of money -- I doubt it generates substantial revenue -- but further, I would bet the Knights' move represented a bailout. But for the Knights, I have no doubt Crux would have folded. Crux badly needs the Knights of Columbus as a patron; but I'm hard-pressed to see what the Knights need Crux for.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

If Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them? (Sunday homily)

(My Sunday homily was a mess, at least I thought so. I only came up with some notes about an hour before the first Mass, and I kept reworking them with each Mass. What follows is more or less what I said.)

If there is a theme to my homily, it is this: When Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them?

In the Transfiguration, described in the Gospel, what's happening? Well, two things in particular. First, it shows that Jesus really is God; and, second, that he is truly Israel's promised king and Messiah, as foreshadowed in the Scriptures -- such as the first reading.

But there's something curious -- perhaps you wondered about it: why did Jesus only bring along these three? Why not bring all the Apostles up the mountain to experience this?

We don't really know, but you might notice that these same three are invited to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we do know that Peter was the leader of the Apostles. So we might guess that James and John were also leaders, and Jesus needed them to be strong for the rest of the Apostles.

Notice something else: if they did what Jesus asked, they couldn't tell anyone, not even the other Apostles!

Sometimes we end up getting invited "inside"; we are called into the meeting, we're given greater responsibility, we have more access and information, and what happens? We get a big head!

Jesus didn't need these Apostles to react that way; he needed them to help the other Apostles.

So: if you are one of those who is given more gifts, or more responsibility, ask yourself: Am I using these to serve the rest? And if not, what will you say to Jesus on Judgment Day?

Now let's look at this from the perspective of the other Apostles. Sometimes we see others being given opportunities we wish we'd gotten. We see others called in, and we're on the outside. And what happens? Envy, resentment, a bad attitude.

We don't know if that's how the Apostles reacted in this case, but they might have. And, again, that's not what Jesus needed them to do. We do know that after the Resurrection, they worked together to launch the Church, and it might have been different if they'd had a bad attitude.

So again, if we find ourselves resenting the fact that others are given opportunities we don't get, what will we say to Jesus if we let a bad attitude get in the way of the mission Jesus gave us?

A third point occurs to me. Normally, Jesus presented himself to everyone in his ordinary humanity; but then this moment happens, and his inner reality is fully on display. What if that happened to you or me? If people got to see, not just the outside, but all the inside, too. How does that sound?

I'm not so sure I want that! You and I both know that on any given occasion, we might not want what's inside, on display. Will it be brilliant light--or darkness?

But Jesus wants us to be filled with light. He never shows us anything he doesn't want to share with us. You see, none of us is an outsider; we've all been given access, and invited up onto the mountain. Jesus has given this to us in baptism, and he renews that light in us in every sacrament.

When we go to confession, we are filled with his light. But that takes an act of faith; and many people struggle to believe that Jesus really does take away our sins -- but that is exactly what he does. And when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, we receive that Light at the source.

Jesus has given us such graces and opportunities. What do we do with them?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Eucharistic Prayer Facing Heaven, not the People

This is a slight reworking of my bulletin column for the upcoming Sunday.

In June, the Archbishop gathered all the priests of the Archdiocese for a three-day convocation; this happens every five years. The topic was the seven sacraments; and in the course of answering questions, the speaker made a point that I want to share with you about the Eucharistic Prayer. And it is this: that the focus of the prayer – the one to whom the words are directed – is God the Father in heaven.

Why is this important?

Because many people think the prayer is addressed to them. Indeed, they have been encouraged to think so! Howso? Because many, many priests treat this prayer as an exposition, and a kind of sacred “show and tell.” If you’ve been at a Mass where a priest tends to do this, this is what happens: the priest is standing at the altar, but his gaze, his focus, is on the assembly. And when he comes to the part that recalls Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, he will treat this as a kind of re-enactment of those events.

But that is not what is going on. Instead, what is happening is the priest is speaking to God the Father, in heaven; and the prayer is recalling what Christ did at the Last Supper (and on Good Friday, and on Easter, for that matter). Moreover, the focus on the Father in heaven begins several minutes earlier, but you may not have noticed.

The most decisive shift* comes after the priest has placed the bread and wine on the altar, perhaps incensing them, and then washed his hands, what does he do? He looks at the people (and turns toward them, if he is not facing them at that moment), and says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father.” And what do you say? “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of his holy Church.”

It is at this point when the priest begins addressing God the Father at length; and then, when all have said or sung “Amen,” he invites everyone to join in the prayer to the Father. This is when the priest sings or says, “Lift up your hearts,” etc. Then the priest prays another prayer – to the Father – and then all sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” – again…to the Father. And after that, the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer – alone – to the Father.

Here’s why this matters: it is important to realize that what we are doing at Mass is not merely or mainly “horizontal” – i.e., directed toward one another – but much more “vertical” – i.e., directed toward heaven. Mass isn’t just talk, talk, talk; but rather, it is action, action, action – by the Holy Trinity. People wonder why folks don’t come to Mass – I think this is a big reason why.

Now, I don’t want to make other priests out to be bad guys. They are trying to be helpful. What’s more, this is what they were taught to do. And…this is why the direction the priest faces at this point of the Mass matters.

Most people have only experienced the priest facing them across the altar; they don’t realize that there is any option. In fact, there is: the priest has the option of offering Mass at the altar while facing the same way as the people (aka, ad orientem). Some say the priest has his “back” to the people, but this emphasizes the wrong thing: where is his face turned? The same ways as yours!

My point being, that having the priest facing the same way as the people – at this very point of the Mass – can do a lot to clarify what’s going on. When the priest faces the people, it’s very easy for both him, and the people facing him, to think that the focus is on each other. Whereas, when the priest and the people are facing the same way, together, then it’s much clearer who the focus is: it is God, and what we look for him to do for us.

FYI, in order to give more parishioners a chance to experience this, at the 7 pm Mass on Tuesday, August 15, for the Assumption, I will offer the Mass in this fashion: meaning, when I am at the altar for the sacrifice, I will use the high altar. I realize this will be unfamiliar to some, and also that some may not prefer it – but give it a try. And do let me know your reactions, whether pro or con.

* In reality, the entire Mass is focused on the Father; but when you have readings proclaimed to the assembly, and a homily, this is obscured. (And readers who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass are smiling knowingly right now.) The point I'm making is that, in the context of the Ordinary Form, there is a distinct moment when the heavenly focus should be crystal clear.